Going Up to London

When, at the start of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, George says, “Let’s go up The River!”, nobody says, “In what direction is that?”

Billy Joel waxed lyrical about his love for Uptown Girl, Christie Brinkley, and New Yorkers knew that Joel would have to travel north up Manhattan to see his girlfriend from his home in the south of the city.

So why is it that basic geography is ignored in London?

It’s always been coming up to London, no matter where in the country one lives; if a visitor from York is coming to London, they are travelling ‘up’.

Is this simply London’s sense of self-importance, or is there another reason?

One theory is that in the early Victorian days of the railways, as the companies planned their routes and schedules, they needed to distinguish the primary direction on each stretch of track. Hence ‘up’ lines – going towards London – and ‘down’ lines – going away.

This terminology lasted at least until after World War II, and in so doing it’s stayed fixed in many minds.

So we still go ‘up west’ if visiting the West End, or ‘up to town’ regardless of the actual direction of travel.

8 thoughts on “Going Up to London”

  1. Oh my, now you ask us to ponder the Big Questions! Never mind the future of western democracy or is free market capitalism a charade? I too find this language far more perplexing. Here in the colonies, the mid western part, we go ‘out’ to California, and ‘back’ east to New York, and try hard to make people give directions as if you are looking at a map: ‘up’ is north, ‘down’ is south. But some old locals insist on advising ‘drive out the old highway and turn where the big tree used to be….’ Thank the Universe for GPS.


    1. Out to California I can understand as beyond that State is water, and Back east to New York could be going ‘back’ in the direction of the parent country i.e. England, but up to London when much of it lies downhill in a valley. Thanks for your comment.


  2. My Scots friends always refer to their visits as going up to London but my husband disagrees if I say we’re going up to London when we (frequently) visit the capital’s suburbs from the Cambridgeshire Fens. I compromise and refer it as going down the M11.


  3. I always said ‘Up West’, and ‘Up Town’. But coming from the real London, as in south of the river, it was ‘Up’ for me.
    Nationally, I would say ‘down to Devon’, ‘up to Scotland’, ‘over to Wales’, and so on. But in London, everywhere else was ‘over the river’.
    Cheers, Pete.


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